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A letter from Marcia Towers in Guatemala
I’d like to share a recent reflection I wrote on behalf of CEDEPCA’s Disaster Ministry. Part of my work as a mission co-worker with CEDEPCA has been to help this ministry thrive—and exciting things are happening!
“Did you notice that together we could work together better, helping each other?” “Yes, and it’s easy!” “The important thing is that we are here and we’re going to make things better, recognize our errors and not repeat them.” “Yeah, like my errors, when I thought I could do everything by myself and without help, and then I realized how important it is to work together as a group.”
Thus concluded the musical theater production And What Can I Do? that CEDEPCA’s Disaster Ministry presented in November 2013 to remember the anniversary of the November 7, 2012, earthquake that resulted in 25,000 houses damaged or destroyed in the department of San Marcos, Guatemala. The musical theater performance, presented together with the dance group CHEVAH, achieved its goal of spreading simple and understandable messages about prevention and about simple emotional care techniques to the general public in the towns of San Marcos and San Pedro, both in the department of San Marcos. Very few free public fine arts are available in Guatemala, so this public presentation with the goal of disaster prevention interested the local mayors, department officials, and a local Presbyterian church, who all helped with different services to make the performance possible.Continue reading
A letter from César Carhuachín in Colombia
Early Winter 2013
Greetings from Barranquilla City, Colombia:
Blessing in the name of Jesus in this Advent season! We are expectantly waiting and preparing for the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ! This is Advent’s spirit! Jesus is “coming,” “arriving” (literally from the Latin word Adventus).
I thank God for this year 2013, because it is my first year of service for the World Mission unit of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Colombia, South America. Also, I thank you for your prayer and financial support. This has been a significant year. It has been a time to learn a lot about the ministry of being a mission co-worker… and I am still learning, so I ask for your prayers about that.
At this last month of classes, on November 1 the Reformed University had the 2013 graduation ceremony. It was a wonderful ceremony with 18 graduates: 2 from the Music Program, 2 from Psychology, 2 from International Business Administration, and 12 from Theology. Aura Marina Salazar, a graduate from the Theology Program, gave a wonderful speech. I didn’t know, but the Theology Program is the strongest program at the Reformed University and that was reflected in the graduation. Let’s continue praying for the PC(USA)’s ecumenical partner, the Reformed University of Colombia. Particularly because in this coming year, 2014, they will be offering four new programs: Bilingual Education and three other programs related to Business Administration.Continue reading
A letter from Justin and Renee Sundberg preparing to serve in Nicaragua
Dear family and friends,
We have exciting news. We will move to Nicaragua to work with Presbyterian World Mission when the school year winds down later this spring.
We will serve as a bridge to churches and organizations in the United States who want to learn and explore how they can make a difference in Nicaragua. Justin will host short-term mission and other teams, in partnership with CEPAD, a Nicaraguan church-sponsored organization hailed for its training of pastors and its success in empowering Nicaraguans in their hard work to create a new future for their children and families. To support and equip us for this new call, Renée will initially provide a stable base for our family and will study Spanish.
Our sense of leading to Nicaragua has been a God-hearty, “I’m going before you!” The amazing call in this story is too long to detail here, but we can say that Justin’s life’s work has been centered in Latin America, in experiencing the beauty of her peoples, understanding their profound challenges and linking resources and relationships in the U.S. and in Latin America to change everyone involved. Renée’s pastoral career in teaching, equipping, spiritual companioning and small groups will complement Justin in our privileged place of facilitating the experience of North Americans journeying to Nicaragua. We are excited for this Spirit-led opportunity to team up in a new season of shared vocation, with much to learn and much to share.Continue reading
A letter from Martha Sommers on home leave from Malawi
Late Fall 2013
Dear Friends and Family:
There is very big news for me to share with you. I will be on leave from the PC(USA) through June 2014. Then I will again be a PC(USA) mission co-worker. Instead of returning to Malawi to work, I will be preparing for a new role working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The position is as an education consultant with the Christian Medical Institute of the Kasai (IMCK). Much of my work will be assisting in the expansion of their family medicine residency, and in facilitating a new Masters in Public Health program that is jointly being developed between IMCK and Saint Louis University. Many details are yet to be worked out: in what country and how many months to study French before going to the DRC, when to make a closure visit to Malawi, how many months of mission interpretation to visit congregations to update many of you on this new role before leaving.
Many prayers and discussions went into this discernment process. Since the decision I was privileged to go to the Congo Mission Network and meet with many of my future colleagues; I am having phone meetings with my PC(USA) matrix in Louisville and the DRC; and I will be meeting more of the team at Saint Louis University when I visit there in February 2014. Through all of this process my confidence grows that God is in this new opportunity to use my skills and relationships to contribute to the wonderful work that has grown out of 50+ years of partnership between the IMCK and the PC(USA).Continue reading
A letter from Richard and Debbie Welch in Guatemala
Dear friends and supporters of our ministry,
Eleven weeks have come and gone. We’ve had a very busy couple of weeks finishing up and planning our next moves. Though we think often of our friends and supporters back home, it’s been hard to find the time to sit down and post the latest news. So, this update is a bit long (even by Richard’s standards). It’s more of a “sit down, relax and read” than a quick update. Nevertheless, we hope you enjoy our latest.
It’s time to start the next phase of our assignment here in Guatemala. We thoroughly enjoyed our time at the Casa Xelajú language school. We’re far from fluent, and we certainly need continued language training, but we feel we’ve been given a good foundation on which to continue building our language skills. We had a hard time deciding on a place to study language in Guatemala because every alum from every school we could track down gave us glowing reports of their school and their teacher. Now I get it. After five hours a day with the same person, one-on-one, practicing conversation by telling and writing stories of life, family, work, and even deeper topics of politics, faith, culture and society, one can’t help but develop a relationship that affects one’s life beyond the time spent in class. I think it takes a special person to teach language in a one-on-one intensive immersion relationship. And we count ourselves blessed by the special people that helped us so much on this first part of our journey. Yes, for better or worse, we must count ourselves among those alums that are enamored with their teachers and truly satisfied with our language school experience!Continue reading
A letter from Claire Zuhosky preparing to serve in Niger
Dear Friends and Family:
It is with great joy and happiness that I write this letter to inform you of the amazing opportunity God has provided for me to serve on the mission field. I have been appointed as a mission co-worker through Presbyterian World Mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I will be the Youth Center Development Specialist serving the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger (EERN) in the Maradi region for a term of four years.
As a quote by Frederick Buechner states, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” My prayer is to be "a light in the darkness" by sharing the love of Christ with the youth of Niger through incarnational and holistic ministry, encouraging them to realize their full potential. Using the opportunities presented to me to build friendships, to mentor and to teach, and to empower them with vocational and life skills so that they may have the resources to meet their basic needs. Within this community of ministry I appeal to the Lord for His guidance in addressing the root causes of poverty, eradication of injustices, and the restoration of harmony andunity where there is chaos and discord. May His Holy Spirit working within me provide the courage for leaps of faith in bringing about His Kingdom here on Earth!Continue reading
A letter from Bob Rice in Congo
You are my brother, you are my sister!
“You are my brother. You are my sister. I am your brother,” pronounces Pastor William Pender of First Presbyterian Church, Knoxville (Tenn.), looking into the faces of his Congolese listeners while concluding his sermon at the IMCK parish in Tshikaji. The congregation acknowledges him, “Eyowa, udi muan’etu” (Yes, you are our brother!). Pastor Pender and four others have come to express their unity and solidarity with the Congolese people, wanting to know how their church in the United States can be more connected with God’s people in Congo. This connection began with Dr. Bill and Effie Rule, long-term missionaries to Congo who helped start the IMCK hospital. The Rules had also been members and leaders in this Knoxville church.
Pastor Pender’s message elucidates our oneness in Christ. In God’s Kingdom traditional separations and boundaries marked by tribe, class and gender no longer have power. God’s people now transcend these barriers. Our baptism into the Body of Christ enables a new ordering of relationships. Pastor Pender cites a poem in which the person who “wins” is the one who draws his circle of fellowship around "the other"; he chooses inclusion versus exclusion. “Inclusion is difficult,” Pender concedes. “Loving others who are different from us is like the resetting of bones. Love is the necessary healing agent that may be painful at first but ultimately leads to healing and wholeness.” Healing and wholeness are needed in our faith communities and our communities at large. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be agents of reconciliation and healing. Jesus prayed that his followers may be one, even as he and his Father were one. Jesus prays for unity so that the world may know that the Father sent him, that the Father loves all peoples even as the Father demonstrated his love for his Son (John 17). The unity of God’s people communicates our oneness with Jesus (the Son), and our oneness with his Father (Yahweh).Continue reading
A letter from Kari Nicewander in Zambia
“I am thankful to be here learning.” Her tiny voice traveled up to my ears, and I repeated her words in a booming tone, to a hundred children, gathered in a huge outdoor circle. “She is thankful to be here learning,” I proclaimed. “We thank God!” One hundred voices responded in unison.
After six months of writing, meeting with colleagues, researching, creating, editing, and using my children and neighbors as guinea pigs, I was in Eastern Zambia for the first curriculum trial. In a 10-hour drive from Lusaka I brought along my curriculum draft, a children’s Bible, and nothing else. The curriculum is meant to be accessible in resource-poor settings. So I would not be using crayons and paper, puppets or playthings. I would just use the curriculum we are creating, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s children’s Bible, which will accompany all the lesson copies when they are distributed.
I expected 30-50 children; our congregation in Lusaka is one of the larger churches, and we generally have fewer than 40 kids on any given Sunday. And so I got ready, chose a lesson, prepared to teach it, and waited for Sunday to arrive. The lesson would take place after worship; the teachers were prepared, and we were ready to give it a try.Continue reading
A letter from Cobbie Palm in the Philippines
Typhoon Yolanda: Update November 12, 2013
The torrential rains have now gone, the storm surge has receded, and the powerful winds of Typhoon Haiyan (Philippine name Yolanda) have moved on out of the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR). We are just beginning to see the horrific devastation it has inflicted on communities in its path. It is far beyond our worst imagination.
The satellite images gave the impression that its powerful wrath would consume the whole country from Luzon to Mindanao. We were prepared in Dumaguete, but this typhoon was unique. It looked like a typhoon but acted like a tornado. It came and devastated with immense power on a path that had a relatively small diameter of approximately 150 kilometers (100 miles). Unlike other typhoons that reach further out with destructive wind and rain, this hybrid typhoon stayed very close to its eye. The wind rotation speed, recorded at landfall in Samar and Leyte to be 315–340 kilometers per hour (195–200 mph), is said to be the strongest typhoon to hit land on record. In comparison, many of us still remember Hurricane Katrina, whose devastating power is recorded at 280 kilometers per hour (175 mph).Continue reading
A letter from Cobbie Palm in the Philippines
Typhoon Haiyan: The Vulnerability of Poverty
Typhoon Yolanda, international name Haiyan, remains very present in our lives as each day the death toll rises and institutions that were once able to offer help are forced to close. As of Sunday, November 24, the death toll had risen to 5,235 with 1,613 still missing and 23,501 under treatment for wounds, infections, illness and other injuries related to the typhoon.
The Search and Rescue Team sent from Silliman University on November 14 to help in the locating of missing persons returned to Silliman University able to report to the students who had lived in the darkness of not knowing about their families, that their family members were alive. But while the report was a blessing to our affected students, the reality of what they saw was horrific.
The reality is the sad awakening that poverty is vulnerability. The question has been raised many times about why so many people and families living in the 555,514 homes that were totally destroyed, many of whom are now counted among the dead, did not evacuate. The answer is poverty. These houses are simple nipa, bamboo houses with no metal locks or grills on the window to protect the very few special items inside. These families had worked years to pay off or may still be paying for the one television set or the coveted stove oven in the home. To leave the home could mean the possibility of losing everything, not from the storm but from a break-in robbery. The loss would be so much to these families and would be devastating. Many survivors have been quoted as saying they did not want to leave their homes unprotected, so they stayed. This is the vulnerability of poverty.Continue reading
A letter from Jed Koball in Peru
“Hola, Señor Taipe!” Abby spoke carefully and clearly into her cell phone. The rest of us in the office, sitting behind our respective computers, immediately stopped what we were doing. Not a keyboard click could be heard as we focused intently, unbeknownst to her, on the conversation that was about to unfold.
Abby Miller is a Young Adult Volunteer serving in Lima with the Bridge of Hope fair trade artisan program of our global partners Red Uniendo Manos Peru. Señor Taipe is an artisan from Yauli, Huancavelica, a small town tucked away high in the peaks of the Andes mountains. His artisan group Sumac Rurac produces hand-knit alpaca scarves, socks and hats with intricate designs and playful colors. Abby was calling to tell him the details of a new international order for his group’s products. This would be her very first time to make a phone call in Peru and in Spanish.
Abby arrived to Peru with basic conversational skills in Spanish. Having studied Spanish in school, she knew the grammar, had a general set of vocabulary, and the practice of speaking the language with other North Americans and their U.S. accents. Señor Taipe also speaks Spanish as a second language, after his native Quechua. While he speaks both languages fluently, his limited education leaves him less concerned about correct grammar and with a vocabulary more peppered with colloquialisms spoken with a hard Andean accent. Add into this equation that Señor Taipe has the unfortunate reputation of being a little bit impatient and a lot bit hard of hearing and the fact that they were speaking for the first time by way of cell phones and a poor signal, the circumstances presented all the ingredients for a communications disaster—not to mention a step back in Abby´s growing self-confidence to manage the everyday circumstances of life in Peru.Continue reading
A letter from Karla Koll in Costa Rica
Dear companions in mission,
Greetings to you in this new year. Yes, I know that the new year started several weeks ago now. I was on vacation at the beginning of the year. I'm working on focusing my vacation time on my family and keeping my work to a minimum, which is why I am only now writing my prayer letter. I hope and pray the new year has started well for each one of you.
Javier, my husband, came from Nicaragua to Costa Rica on December 23. We spent a very quiet Christmas here together. Colleagues recently retired from the Latin American Biblical University (UBL) hosted a lovely Christmas dinner for some faculty and students. Our daughter, Tamara, finally made it to Costa Rica on December 29. Her boyfriend, Eric Whittier, arrived the next day. Javier returned to Nicaragua on January 1. The rest of us followed by bus on January 4. Highlights of our visit included a day on our farm, a visit to the Masaya volcano, and spending a night on the beach watching olive ridge sea turtles hatch at the Chacocente Wildlife Refuge. The three of us returned to Costa Rica and explored the museums of San Jose while Javier stayed in Nicaragua. We also spent two nights in a cabin near Los Quetzales National Park, where we were treated to a sighting of quetzals. Hiking through the cloud forest and walking through the sand on the beach made me resolve to work on losing the extra pounds that I've put on from past and ongoing treatment as well as to strengthen my knees. I want to do a lot more hiking in forests and on beaches in the future.Continue reading
A letter from Sharon Curry as she ends service in South Sudan
Hope Along the Road
The old year has faded away. A year of starts and stops, hurries up and goes, only to stop and wait and see. As the new year winter begins to fade into spring, in Texas, today at least, so my time with PC(USA) World Mission will also fade into the past as my term comes to an end at the end of February.
It is with a very heavy heart that I write these words. It is hard to say goodbye to “family” and friends and people I have come to love during my time with you. The tears haven’t fallen yet, I am sure they are yet to come as the hope that a new position with PC(USA) fades into reality that there just isn’t one right now, and we begin the transition process.
As I watch the events unfolding in South Sudan, my heart longs, it pleads and it begs to go back, jump right in and do what I can to help the people I left behind. That is the dreamer in me.
The realistic people that God has surrounded me with are working very hard to convince me that this is not a good idea. I can’t be a help if I cause more harm by getting malaria and create a whole host of evacuation problems in a land that is already overwhelmed with problems. They work hard to convince me to sit back, be patient and to remember God is in control and He has a plan.Continue reading
A letter from Jodi McGill in Malawi
Mud on the khonde (veranda), mud on the floors, mud on the sofa, and mud on the doors—sounds like the beginning of a children’s book but it is, thankfully, what we are experiencing the past few days. The rainy season usually begins in earnest in December but there has been so little rain around and in Mzuzu that people’s crops are suffering and the water reservoir is low. Of course we do not know if the rains that we are having will continue and if they do, if they are timely enough or will be enough to avoid a disaster, but we are thankful for the blessing of rain and the mess that we have at this time.
While we are indeed grateful for the rains that water the crops and replenish the ground water that Jim’s projects are busy trying to extract for people, it does make getting to and from worksites and school more interesting. Driving to the water drilling sites is often described as “dancing” as you swerve to the left and then swerve to the right to proceed down the road. Jim is especially thankful at this time of year for the four-wheel drive Land Cruiser pickup truck donated by PC(USA) congregations for the Synod’s water and sanitation work that allows him even during the rains to get up and down from the Livingstonia Plateau with its infamous switchback rock and dirt road.
A letter from Farris Goodrum in Brazil
Greetings, again, from the island city of Vitoria, in southeastern Brazil. We have enjoyed the Christmas holidays and are awaiting all of the normal activities of the New Year and the new semester. We had much rain throughout the month of December and on into January. This state of Espirito Santo was especially hit with excessive rainfall, and there was much flooding throughout the state. There was a death toll of 23, and many people lost their homes, especially those who live near rivers or on muddy hillsides.
One day during this rainy season, while on the way to a rehearsal at our church, I found myself on flooded streets and had to jump curbs or go the wrong way on one-way streets, as all the other cars were doing, in order to escape the streets that had become like rivers and return home safely. A few days later I was going to the church again, this time with Thelma and Joel, on the way to our Christmas service, when we found ourselves in the same situation and turned back toward home. Relieved to arrive at our apartment without getting stuck in the floods, we called the church and found out that the service was cancelled due to the flooded streets.Continue reading
A letter from Bob Butterfield in Portugal
Keiko and I hope you are well and are surviving the crazy winter CNN says you’re having. We send you our heartfelt thanks for your support and encouragement. Though serving in Portugal, like serving almost anywhere, has its frustrations and disappointments, we find our work here amazingly gratifying in many ways. And we thank you for supporting us and keeping us here.
Much of the gratification I mentioned comes to us through our ecumenical work, and this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was so special and so moving that I’m eager to tell you about it. What made this year’s celebrations special from the outset was that at the national celebration to be held at the end of the week, Saturday, January 25, at St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in Lisbon leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Portugal, the Evangelical Methodist Church of Portugal, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church were set to sign the Document of Mutual Recognition of Baptism. This signing marked a real improvement in relations among the churches and gave added incentive to our annual unity celebrations.Continue reading
Thank You and Your Family for serving God by taking His word so far from Your Home.
God is doing his work and using us a tools in other nations.during my working here in Athens i observed that there are many oppertunities to share the Gospel massage with other those do not know Jesus and we can bring them to Jesus Christ.Please prayer for me that i'm a very littel to that God is using me here in Athens Greece. God bless you.